American, 2 Japanese win chemistry Nobel

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They are also being used to create new antibiotics that work on resistant bacteria and a number of commercially available drugs, including the anti-inflammatory naproxen, prize committee member Claes Gustafsson said.

“There have been calculations that no less than 25 percent of all chemical reactions in the pharmaceutical industry are actually based on these methods,” Mr. Gustafsson said.

Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling is also used by the electronics industry in the coating of electronic circuits and as a tool to develop thinner computer screens in the future, said prize committee member Jan Erling Backvall.

The approach developed by the winners is widely used in research labs and in commercial production of substances like plastics, said Joseph Francisco, president of the American Chemical Society and a colleague of Mr. Negishi’s in Purdue’s chemistry department.

“It’s truly quite fundamental work,” he said.

By using the metal palladium as a catalyst to make carbon atoms bond to each other, the approach makes those bonds happen “very easily, very cleanly,” he said. It requires fewer steps than previous methods and avoids having to clean up unwanted byproducts, he said.

Mr. Heck started experimenting with using palladium as a catalyst while working for an American chemical company in Delaware in the 1960’s. In 1977 Mr. Negishi developed a variant of the method and two years later Mr. Suzuki developed another.

Mr. Heck was the only American among the Nobel science winners this year. There had been at least two U.S. scientist among the medicine, physics and chemistry laureates since 1991, when there were none.

The prize committees ignore the provision in Alfred Nobel’s will that the awards honor discoveries made the preceding year because it takes time to measure the benefits. It’s not uncommon for the prizes to reward research made decades ago, especially if its applications have increased with time.

“This is one of those cases. It’s become used more and more,” said Mr. Gustafsson, of the chemistry prize committee.

The academy said the chemistry award had a link to the research honored Tuesday by the Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Russian-born Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for experiments with graphene, the thinnest and strongest material known to mankind.

“In spring 2010, scientists announced that they had attached palladium atoms to graphene, and the resulting solid material was used to carry out the Suzuki reaction in water,” the citation said.

The 2010 Nobel Prize announcements began Monday with the medicine award going to 85-year-old British professor Robert Edwards for fertility research that led to the first test tube baby.

The literature prize will be announced on Thursday, followed by the peace prize on Friday and economics on Monday, Oct. 11.

The awards were established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel — the inventor of dynamite — and are always handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of his death in 1896.

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